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There’s no money in Android apps, so they say. Google’s Android Market store is a mess, the geeks who inhabit the reviews section of each effort have come to expect the world for free, and getting every owner of an Android phone to ‘fess up to their credit card details? Don’t get them started.

Except of course, the general consensus isn’t always on the mark – or the money. We’ve tracked down some of the most successful developers who prove the mantra that iOS is the only way to go completely wrong. Call them outliers, call them trendsetters, but whichever way you slice it, they’re now filthy rich from selling Android apps. Read on and meet the Android app millionaires.

If you’re sat down with a cuppa already, tuck in from the top, but if not, feel free to jump from section to section in the table of contents below.

Table of contents

The Market moguls

Android’s installed user base is huge. There are millions of Android handsets in the wild, and each one is itching to gobble up apps. Last Summer, Google said it was seeing around 200,000 Android phone activations per day, while this month, new figures suggested the smartphone operating system has even overtaken RIM’s BlackBerry in the US.

You’d think then that its app download store, the Android Market, would be a storming success. Think again: while app catalogue website AndroLib estimates that 3.7billion apps have been sucked down from the Market, Apple has stormed ahead with well over 10 billion for iOS gadgets. And although Google takes the same 30 percent cut from purchases as Apple does on the iPhone app store, it’s unlikely to have anywhere near the 200m customers with credit card details Cupertino now claims to have.

Best Android apps of all time: Top 100

Indeed, AndroLib estimates that just five paid-for Android apps have been bought more than 250,000 times. In fact, though Android phones are sold globally, there are still only 32 countries in which you can pay for apps with cold hard cash, rather than merely grab free ones from the Market.

Add the issue of fragmentation, as different versions of Android run on very different hardware, and you can see why so many big name companies still stick to the comfort of iPhone development: the Android app ecosystem is, frankly, a bit of a mess.

“We focused heavily on iOS development, however delved into Android a couple of times,” says Will Moore, the former head of digital innovations at UK based Wonderful Creative Agency, which developed bespoke apps for commercial clients. “The attitudes that I have come across from others were predominantly that Android was iOS’s underachieving brother. It has a lot of potential, but just seems a bit rough round the edges and unfinished; I would liken it to the Windows/Mac and Linux debate that has been raging for years.”

Don’t knock it though: amidst all the live wallpapers and pathetically titillating boob and fart apps on the Android Market are some gems which have been downloaded in droves, and earned their developers millions. And it’s not just the big companies with pricey apps (Sling Media’s SlingPlayer Mobile and ALK’s CoPilot satnav apps, for instance) which have sold the mos. Some small teams of coders, or even one man bands, have created barnstorming apps and found their fortunes in Android.

NOTE: Our estimates are based on dollars because (until recently) this is the currency that most Android apps were fixed to. The download estimate figures are also courtesy of AndroLib, and accurate as of 21st March 2011.

Better Android Apps

The team at Better Android Apps have had two hugely successful hits on the Market, launcher replacement Open Home ($3.99) and the succinctly named Better Keyboard ($2.99), which between them have racked up 553,329 sales on the Market, according to AndroLib. That’s a potential $1.34m in pure profit after Google’s taken its pound of flesh, and that’s without taking into account the team’s other (less successful) paid-for apps into account, and free apps with mobile advertising.

It’s hard to say how many that’s divvied up between though, as the team provides no way of contacting them, other than by commenting on their blog – a common tactic amongst the most popular Android app authors, presumably to avoid being hit with a barrage of emails from angry customers peeved that the latest game using the Unreal engine isn’t playing ball on their creaking T-Mobile G1.

Lupis Labs

Robo Defense, one of Android’s first big gaming hits, is still going strong, and the team behind this tower defense game, Lupis Labs, has raked in a potential fortune, despite it being the only game they’ve published. It currently sells for $2.99 on the Android Market, and has racked up an estimated 996,567 purchases, leaving Lupis Labs with a cut of a staggering $2.09million.

Lups Labs, like the team at Better Android apps, could not be reached for comment. However, one developer behind the smash hit game has gone on record before as to why they chose Android for their gaming endeavours, telling This Android Life that the big attraction was the “freely available…full development kit…and the openness of the market…just making user aware of your game on other platforms can be difficult.”

LevelUp Studio

Ever tried Beautiful Widgets? If you’ve got an Android phone, we urge you to check it out: it’s a set of luvverly, customisable widgets and power toggles for your phone’s homescreen, thoroughly deserving of the success it’s seen on the Android Market.

According to AndroLib estimates, the developers behind it at LevelUp Studio, have made as much as $934,774 from 480,357 sales, though when we reached out to the founder, Ludovic Vialle, he revealed to us that they’d seen more than 500,000 downloads. However not all of these were sold at the current €1.99/$2.78 price, since the app initially offered fewer features and Vialle wouldn’t give precise figures, so the number may not be accurate.

That pot is now split between four people at the company, Vialle tell us. A former vice president at California based CoreCodec, Vialle went full time working on and selling Android apps at the end of 2009. He shows surprisingly little interest in having a crack at the iPhone App Store, (“I think it is harder to be popular since it is too crowded”), and nor does he think that Windows Phone 7 will take off. “While I had a good feeling about Android, I cannot say I do have the same with Windows Phone 7,” he tells us.

Still, with revenues like that coming in, who can blame him? Vialle certainly isn’t resting on his laurels, as he’s set to hire another person at LevelUp very soon.

Halfbrick Studios

There are so many hit iPhone games crying out for an Android port (Cut The Rope and Infinity Blade to name but a few), and based on the success of Fruit Ninja on the Android Market, it’s a business opportunity many are missing out on. The hit slicing game is Austrialian game developer Halfbrick’s only Android title, and it’s already netted the team a six figure sum – approximately $242,617 from 286,443 sales. At the time of writing, we were awaiting a response from the company’s marketing director – we’ll update when we hear back.

Yonghz

One thing’s for certain: Google’s willingness to allow emulators of yesteryear’s consoles onto the Android Market has made a few crafty developers phenomenally wealthy. These savvy enthusiasts have tapped into a huge audience of geek-inclined Android owners who revel in nostalgic gaming, making a mint in the process – and none more so than the elusive Yongzh.

While one man emulator legend ZodTTD has made us much as $219,256 from his PlayStation emulator app, psx4droid, alone, most of his efforts are spent on coding jailbreak iPhone apps. Yongzh however has made a vast sum on the Android Market, all on his lonesome, through his massively popular series of “oid” emulators for retro Nintendo, Sega and Atari systems. In total, they’ve racked up somewhere between 1.5 and 2.67million downloads, and may have made Yonghz as much as $1.81m. We contacted Yonghz to clarify, but did not hear back. Perhaps he was asleep on top of a bed of money.

The advertising sensations

Selling your Android app in the Market isn’t the only way to find your fortune developing Android apps. Many are made available for free by their developers and supported by pop up advertising. It’s a relatively new business model on mobile, but it’s worked for a few, both big fish and small fry.

Rovio

You may not have heard of Rovio, but if you’ve not heard of Angry Birds, we suspect you might be lying. The avian flinging mobile gaming smash has been a huge hit, and not just on iPhone, where it goes for 59p a pop. It’s available on Nokia and Palm phones, as well as on Android, where it caused a stir by launching for free with pop up ads in the corner. Whether they’re intrusive or not is still up for debate, but what isn’t is just how much cash they’re pulling in.

Back in December, just two months after launch, developer Rovio revealed that Angry Birds for Android had already racked up five million downloads, and it was projecting $1m per month in ad revenue. You can bet that figure’s even larger now: Angry Birds Seasons is now pulling in the clicks alongside the original, and Rovio is experimenting with an ad supported version of the iPhone version as well.

Arron La

Arron La was the whizz behind Advanced Task Manager, an app popular in Android’s early days when it was tricky to close running services and save battery life on early Google phones. The Android 2.2 update made it redundant, but until then La was a posterboy for ad supported apps. In a surprisingly transparent move, last August he published his earnings for both the paid and ad-supported versions: the paid for version (released first) had accrued $50,000 in sales, while the free version had earned him $29,000 through AdMob adverts. That’s not a sum anyone would turn their nose up at, but nor is it in the region that will let you buy a mansion sans mortgage. There is one more route to riches selling Android apps we’ve discovered, however…

In app shopping frenzies

There may be no slick in-app purchasing system in Android to match that in iPhone apps, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to ring up revenue this way, with the right game. That game is Pocket Legends, an impressive online mutiplayer RPG aping World of Warcraft, slimmed down and optimized for mobile. It’s a charming title on both iPhone and Android, but clearly Google backing punters think so in larger numbers: to the developer Spacetime’s surprise, it actually began making more money from in app purchasing on Android almost immediately, hitting lofty heights of $8,000 per day according to Computerworld. Even with revenues settling down to around $5,000 per day, it won’t take long for the company to crack seven figures – especially since the game is pulling in twice as many ad click throughs on Android as iPhone as well.

“In some ways, it’s kind of like the wild, wild West,” Spacetime CEO Gary Gattis told the publication earlier this month. “But that’s where the gold rush people made their claim. For us, the challenges have become opportunities.”

How to strike it big yourself

Hatching a get rick quick app of your own is a noble quest. But you’ll need to know how to wring it for sales if you’re going to become an Android app millionaire. From the case studies we’ve looked at, it appears there’s no surefire route to success, although we’ve got a few tips for you:

1. Make it great
It might sound simple, but quality really matters in the Android market. A dearth of second-rate apps means the great ones really stand out. Android owners will give everything from simple games to handy utilities and even swift iOS ports the time of day, so long as they’re worth the asking price. Make it great, price it sensibly and you’ll see there are greater opportunities for cut-through than in other mobile markets.

2. Sell it in the Android Market
Many Android developers still hawk their wares outside Google’s official Android Market, but that’s a mistake. Recent security scares, and an enormous pace of growth mean the Android Market’s being seen as the only trusted destination. Improvements by Google that let users discover apps more easily will help you out too, and it’s no longer a race to the bottom. Price your app sensibly, and as long as it conforms to point 1 above, you’ll be on the right track.

3. Don’t be cynical
Being motivated by profit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just don’t try to cash in too obviously. There are already several I Am Rich apps on the Android Market going for anywhere between $99 and $199, none of which appear to have sold any at all. Don’t be that guy, create something worthwhile and have faith in your customers. If you build it, they will come… and pay.

4. Invest in Android now
“Android was always an afterthought,” Will Moore tells us. “The business world wanted iOS; Once an app had been made for iOS, we often made it work for Android too, but it wasn’t the starting point for any project.” As these high achievers indicate however, that’s about to change forever. “Sadly, Android is still seen as the domain of geeks, but I don’t think it will be long before this changes. With Android appearing in everything from fridges to cars, as well as mobiles, the world will be using Android without even knowing it…Android is on the tipping point of big brand adoption.”

What does that all mean? The time to make a killing from the Android Market is now. Google’s mobile OS is about to go mainstream: soon even your nan will know who Google’s green mascot is, and when that happens you want your app to be front and centre. Get designing, start coding, and line yourself up for a life of luxury. Let us know how you get on!

Thanks to Krishnan Design for the image, which we butchered slightly, above.

  • James Holland

    I wanna be a millionaire, so freakin’ bad…

  • http://twitter.com/zodttd zodttd

    Hello from ZodTTD! Great article! Always wondered when someone would write one up. With download counts shown on paid apps able to get estimates of income, I wonder if there will eventually be tension between developers/publishers and their fans. Will be interesting to see. Working on an update to psx4droid with OpenGL ES and faster dynarec CPU core as well. It’s been a rough experience coming over to Android with such a tough app to develop.

    • Anonymous

      Hey ZodTTD! Glad you liked the article. Has your experience with Android (and Market sales) left you wanting to come back for more, or do you still see iPhone being the big money spinner? Drop me a line, would love to chat http://www.electricpig.co.uk/contact_us/

  • Currency

    RE:NOTE: Our estimates are based on dollars because (until recently) this is the currency that most Android apps were fixed to.

    What currency is it now?

    • Anonymous

      Developers can now fix the price of their apps in different currencies, rather than just one and the other equivalent prices changed with exchange rates. Only happened earlier this year.

  • http://www.chrismweb.com Chris Moeller

    Great article! Where did you find the number of downloads for each app?

    Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      AndroLib provides estimates with eerily precise figures – they’re in line with the broader numbers the web version of the Android Market itself shows, but based on talking to developers, they do appear to under report sales.

Hot chat, right here!


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